Family Trip To Hokkaido 2008

Beach or snow? That was the question. Wife said snow. I said Hokkaido. She said,OK.

So we landed in Osaka, transferred to domestic JAL and flew into frozen Abashiri on the Northeast corner of the island. The Sun set at like 4PM. Caught a bus and rode into the JR station, where they said, our hostel was a ten minute walk away. It was a 10 minute taxi away. We learned fast that everybody said everything was ten minutes away from any landmark close to where you wanted to go.

Our first meal was here, one minute off the bus. Looks stylishly Japanese. It’s a diner. I had a hamburger covered with spaghetti sauce and cheese, and fries.

We stayed the first few days in cross country ski hostel. It was empty save us. I woke up at 6Am, no, 5AM. No, 7AM. Which clock did we set ahead? I walked outside in the bitter cold, about -5C. A shot down the road from the hostel.

Planet Earth is blue:

The main reason we went to Abashiri was for the drift ice boats on the Okhotsk Sea.Once in a lifetime trip, as the ice is less frequent and I doubt we’ll ever go back.

Getting on the Aurora boat:

We had good ice that day. Got some great video of the ice rising on the waves. Some seals kicking back on the drift ice and an eagle too. It was so big we thought it was a seal at first.

The temp outside was about -10C in the wind. Seagulls flew all around us while people threw chips to them. It was a spectacular ride. One of the coolest things I’ve ever done.
I was a happy camper.

End part 1. Must go to work. :rainbow:

Part 2: Abashiri

SO, we jumped off the boat and were going to wait for the local bus to come by. The boats just opened for business the day before and the buses just started running, so it was late. So, we hoped in a taxi, and to take us downtown to something called the Plaza on the map. Taxis were VERY expensive and this I believe was the last one we took.

The Plaza was a department store. We ran inside out of the cold and bought some better gloves for the wife and son. I saw this poster on the wall near the bathrooms. It’s a top news stories in japan from 2007. The big picture is China Air crashing and burning.

Gloved and bundled up, we headed out to visit to local art museum down the street. It was closed and we wandered around the town for a bit. It’s a small town with little traffic and we just made fun as we went.

My wife read some characters that signified food and or noodles, so in we went to a tiny restaurant. There was a gas stove in the corner. Good thing, as it was 5 degrees inside. We ate great Ramen noodles with pork on top.

It was mid afternoon, so we went back toward the train station with the intent of going to the local museums up the road, the Abashiri Prison and the Drift Ice Museum. We stopped in an internet cafe to say hi. They spoke English and I had printed maps from their website before we left Taiwan.

They gave us some brochures and we headed up to catch the bus. We waited and waited but the right bus still wasn’t showing up. It was about -8C or so and the boy was freezing and moody. I made a command move to go across the street to the diner we ate in on the first night. We sat down and removed his boots. I warmed his toes up and drank some coffee. Finally we headed back out and got on the bus and went to the prison.

The place was deserted on such a cold day and we had it basically all to ourselves. The sun was dropping and we walked around. I kept thinking this would be the worst prison this side of the Russian Gulag. It was SOOO cold and these guys were working, so the displays suggested, in rags. It would have been near impossible to keep warm in this place. No wonder if was the most feared prison in Japan.

The next day we took the JR up to Shari, the Northeastern most station. Shiretoko National Park is up there. It’s a World Heritage Site and as we knew we’d never be there again, we went. We had some time to kill and did so by eating Wasabi Doritos

Our inexperience showed here as we had a choice of busing it up to a Nature Center, or going to a frozen waterfall. The price difference was big when buying for three, so I chose the cheaper and closer. The waterfall. The drive up to the park was spectacular. Ski resorts next to the drift ice filled ocean, breaking on the rocks. The bus stopped and we got out. The bus left. The waterfall was visible from the road. In fact, it was right next to the road. 20 meters from the road. We had 2 hours to catch the last bus back. Crap. :laughing:

Making lemonade from lemons, we hiked up the steps and I taught the boy finer nature skills.

We came back down, hiked through a tunnel and found some wild wave breakers, those huge concrete jacks-like things they protect the coastline. They were frozen and dripping with ice and looked like huge frozen walruses. Sadly the picture won’t load here. grrr We saw a deer up on the hill. Then we saw a bus coming back our way. We spirited back to the bus stop and jumped on the same bus that dropped us off. The bus was about 22 degrees C.

Back to Shari for ramen again. Train back to Abashiri.

Clear skies for the incredible frozen full Moon:

Waiting for Mr Ikeda to pick us up at the train station, watching the Sumo competition:The pic is off one of the two foreign guys in the games. We were rooting for An Ma. He threw some serious weight around:

Sunrise on the last day in Abashiri was perfect:

Mr Ikeda:

Next stop, Asahikawa.

Classic. No caption needed :slight_smile:

Nice boots.

You there now, posting from your laptop, or back in Taiwan?
If you’re still there, do not miss the “Sapporo Beer Factory”. There’s a German-style beer hall there that serves up a fantastic meal. Also, Royce chocolate: get it in the airport. It’s no longer on sale here. And there’s some little sugar-coated liquor candy that’s pure gold. Forget the name, dammit.

(Insert typical Japanese disclaimer)

“If you are a person alrady return from journey, disregard please above message.”

The boots are nice. Not GoreTex, but waterproof. And they were too. But not cold proof.

Sadly, Jabone, I am back, at work…

I do this, so I can do that. :smiley:

Mr. Ikeda dropped us off at the train station after a good breakfast and we got settled in for a 3-4 hour train ride to Asahikawa, a place famous for A) Ramen noodles and B) the Asahiyama Zoo. We’d had conflicting brochures about the zoo being open on the two days we were set to be in the city.So, we planned on doing other things for two days, making a day trip to Furano, and hitting the Ramen Village, a place with 8 different noodle shops under one roof.

On the train I finished Ed Lakewood’s book. The boy did Cat in the Hat impressions:

The scenery from the train was like being home in upstate NY. Remarkably so. This could be taken out my Grandmother’s front window.

Our hotel was conveniently located just outside the JR station. You actually didn’t even have to go outside. Just up some stairs. There was a woman who spoke English with a British accent. I asked how she got that. She said studying in New Zealand. Of course. :laughing: She helped us a lot, getting a three day pass for the boy all worked out, and assured us that the Zoo was open the next day. We checked in and then went out for a walk. I had done some research on the city and found that the Kandy Curry Spice restaurant just down the street was a well known eatery. So we went.

It was closed. I got pissed. But the wife said it was most likely shut down for the afternoon and would reopen later. She was right. We ran across the street and had some noodles at a mom and pop noodle shop, sans pop. Smoking is allowed indoors in Japanese restaurants. But it wasn’t too bad, as the other person in the place smoking was five seats away.

Outdoors, we saw huge crows flying around. No dogs. No cats. Crows. Big ass crows.

We walked and it started to snow. The boy and I caught snowflakes on our tongues to the bemusement of passersby. Good thing as we kept running into them calling “GOT ONE!”

What is Japan without schoolgirls? The fashion accessory here was caveman style boots. Ugly ugly things. But they all had them on.

We went back to the Kandy Spice later. The waitress was hot. The food was good. I recommend it. We followed up by taking a night walk and getting some steamed buns. Didn’t know what they were, but guessed meat of some kind on one and no idea on the other.

The next day was the Zoo. I don’t like zoos, but the idea of seeing polar bears made me get over it. They didn’t disappoint. It was -8C that day and we shuffled from exhibit to exhibit like robots in shuffly steps. The seal exhibit was cool. They swam around and then swam up a tube that was like the holes in the ice from back home. It was wild. As animals go, they seemed less pissed off to be enslaved for my pleasure. The bears rocked. They swam and dove in the water, came right up to the windows. They were enormous and awesome to behold. Their feet were just massive.

Then we found more stuff that reminded me of why I hate zoos.

Tigers, lions, black bears, raccoon things, giraffes and all sorts of things that didn’t belong in that climate. The tipping point for me was seeing the beautiful eagles we saw two days before on the ice and in the trees the day before while on the bus stored in some cage.

The thing that saved the day was the penguin walk. We stood behind 30 Japanese kindergarten kids and watched the parade of penguins. It was sweet and funny.

We went back to town and walked 30 minutes in subzero temps to get to the Ramen Village. It was good, but by then I was kind of sick of noodles.

We stopped by a grocery store and I saw that I was the ONLY guy in the place. Except for a guy who worked there and a 65 year old possible widower. Men don’t shop for food. The hotel English speaking gal agreed. They buy bian dangs at the train station. I asked her to find us a great Yakatori restaurant for our last meal there, that’s chicken or other meat on a stick. We found one across the street. Small and wonderful. Tatami mat floors and food food food.

We ate and ate and ordered more.

We left tired and full.

Next stop, Otaru!

The wife and kids are cute jd but gosh, I forgot you look like such a nob hahahaha…

That’s the real me bob. :laughing:

sounds like a great trip !! Especially for snow starved Taiwan based people .

I would be more for hitting a nice hot beach myself, but that trip is certainly worth doing at least once .

Tigers (if Siberian) should be ok in the cold and snow, but I cant see Lions and Giraffes being too happy.

I remember in the heat of summer at the old Taipei Zoo (donno bout at the new one) they had this big airconditioned room to put the penguins in during the day as it got too hot for them. NO polar bears at the Taipei Zoo (for obvious reasons).

Great post JD :bravo: made me very “homesick” for Asia. :frowning:

As for teaching Jdkid “nature” skills, did you teach him how to do it in cursive? :laughing:

[quote=“Namahottie”]Great post JD :bravo: made me very “homesick” for Asia. :frowning:

As for teaching Jdkid “nature” skills, did you teach him how to do it in cursive? :laughing:[/quote]

I don’t teach Chinese writing in urine. Start. Stop. Start. Stop.

Ouch. Too much pinching.

Too bad I can’t post vids of the trip here. They are excellent.

[quote=“jdsmith”][quote=“Namahottie”]Great post JD :bravo: made me very “homesick” for Asia. :frowning:

As for teaching Jdkid “nature” skills, did you teach him how to do it in cursive? :laughing:[/quote]

I don’t teach Chinese writing in urine. Start. Stop. Start. Stop.

Ouch. Too much pinching.

Too bad I can’t post vids of the trip here. They are excellent.[/quote]

My dog can do this… :laughing: :laughing:

The End: Otaru and Sapporo.

So, we rolled into Sapporo and thought about ditching the luggage and touring the city, but then thought just go on to Otaru and check into the hotel is better. It was getting cold and there were “Stormo” warnings for three days previous. This was a sign of things to come.
Train at the platform:

The trains were really hot. No one wanted to get out. We noticed that at one stop, nearly everyone switched trains. Then their train headed in the same direction. It was the rapid train. We ended up hitting every stop from Sapporo to Otaru. Ooops. :blush:

Our hotel was a “London” style place. Lots of boats and cushy chairs and sofas and fishing gear on the walls. It was like a weird Haruki Murakami Hotel. It freaked me out with it’s 7 foot ceilings, but it was nice.

Otaru is a"famous" for it’s short canal. But really it’s an artsy fartsy town with lots of glassware and music box museums. Also the seafood is extraordinary. One of the few family pictures we have of the trip was taken by a Taiwanese lady then with 50 people on a bus trip. We did the same trip two years before in May. That’s a snowflake in front of my nose, not a booggie.

The snow began to fall after three days of the news predicting a big “stormo.”

We ate some sashimi that melted in my mouth and practiced that age old routine, Cold? Eat more. We walked down to the tourist section of town and watched this guy and his assistant blow glass. Wild stuff.

Feeling artsy myself, I took this shot of the snow catchers.

The blizzard hit and the snow was thick. We had a great time ducking into shops, dusting off the snow, not buying anything, then ducking back out.

By the time we headed home it was a white out. My camera had low juice so there was no flash, but trust me, you couldn’t see anything.

The snow didn’t stop and we made it to a BBQ place across the street for dinner. A weak meal but we just wanted to be warm. We sat next to a heater that looked and sounded like a jet engine. This was the view we took with us to bed.

The next day we were going to go to a big ski resort, but decided against it, as a) we don’t ski, and b) the weather looked like this.

We bought one day subway pass and tooled around Sapporo, walking through indoor/outdoor markets. We tried to find Odori Park in the snow to see the nearby Shrine. The snow just was too heavy though. When we were just about frozen, we stumbled across this sculpture. The Winter festival is coming up. The Sphinx.

We got sick of mall walking and being outside at the time was a nightmare, so we went back to Otaru. There is a small mountain nearby so we decided to go there, ride the gondola to the top and watch the sun set over Otaru. Here’s the white out from inside the train station at Sapporo.

The ski place was nice,like where I grew up. Just kids mostly hanging out, snowboarding and skiing all day. There was a Japanese celebrity there and she caused a stir. I wanted to go out and see the view overlooking the city but they made me wait. I asked who it was. One girl told me in English and asked if I knew her. I laughed and said, “Of course not.”

The view was something. Skiing next to the ocean. When the sun went down the city lit up. It was just great, except that it was oh minus a billion outside.

We warmed up and got some french fries from the vending machine. We were going to choose the fried chicken and a hotdog, but we were laughing too hard. A french fry vending machine. I love it.

Kimono boy.

The next morning we tool a walk, threw some snowballs and headed back to the airport.
It was a fantastic trip, and I am sure I will never do it again. This kind of weather is one of the main reason I moved to Taiwan. :smiley:

About a million more things to say, but this seems like enough. Hope you enjoyed the pics.

jdshares :rainbow:

brrrrrrrrrr that looks cold !!! but i guess worth doing once

That was a mighty cool little vacation diary, jd. Makes me want to go there. But more for skiing than the walking about.

I’ve been to Japan many times, but I’ve never gone for the skiing. Is Hokkaido better than the Akita region in your opinion?


Looks like a fun family trip (albeit a very cold one). Did you go to the public spas in Hokkaido? I’ve heard they don’t let foreigners in there (famous lawsuit in Japan). Not sure if that’s changed now or not.

I’ve never been to Japan, so I don’t know which is the better skiing spot at all. I HAVE heard that it’s insanely expensive to ski there, though I don’t know for sure whether that’s true or not.

I’ve been to Japan many times, but I’ve never gone for the skiing. Is Hokkaido better than the Akita region in your opinion?


Looks like a fun family trip (albeit a very cold one). Did you go to the public spas in Hokkaido? I’ve heard they don’t let foreigners in there (famous lawsuit in Japan). Not sure if that’s changed now or not.[/quote]I never had any trouble with the onsens… public or private.

Hokkaido’s supposed to be the best place for skiing.

We did not do the osens (hot springs) because they are usually separate, men here and women there. I don’t bathe with dudes, so that was out.

The skiing seemed to me to be more like the East coast US. Smaller hills, but steep. The place we went to was for kids really, but a couple of nice runs. I’m sure it was expensive though. There are a ton of resorts in Hokkaido though. Plenty to choose from.

Should I choose to brave the frigid cold again, with the boy as the wife says NO WAY will she go back in winter, I’d probably go right back to Otaru. It’s a picture perfect place. Right on the JR line to Sapporo and close to bigger ski areas, and the food…god. The food.